Back to the Wild cont'd.

Oct 1, 2001
Outside Magazine



"WE'D START RIDING HERE," my friend Eric explained, waving his right hand as we steamrolled over the landscape on an ignored Forest Service road in our Mercedes. Instead of biking deep into the backwoods, we'd decided to drive the route in a $50,000, German-designed, Alabama-built rig. Eric brought us to a gloriously lush canyon an hour west of Santa Fe, with dark water running toward the Rio Grande and a tight canopy of aspen, ponderosa pine, and cottonwood. On a dual-sprung mountain bike, the harsh, undulating path would be a series of launchpads. In the three-ton Benz, this road likewise bounced us skyward thanks to its sports car­stiff suspension.

whoomp! whoomp whoomp! The shocks thudded with each four-point landing. The ML430 merely scraped its chin when we hit a monster rut at full speed. We sliced through a brown creek and tattooed the hood with mud. But still, the experiences weren't visceral—there was too much plush leather, Bose stereo wattage, wood trim, and highly competent German engineering between the rough terrain and us. Finally giving up on the in-dash GPS navigation unit, which we couldn't program while hurtling over ruts, Eric glanced up just in time to stop us from planting the mighty V-8 in a hillside. With a last-second yank on the wheel, the big white Benz, and its electronically controlled brakes, transmission, and throttle, tucked into the turn like an obedient German shepherd. And so, our pedal-to-the-metal ride continued unabated. The thing was Eric-proof. —Andrew Tilin

268-horsepower V-8 engine; full-time four-wheel drive; 81 cubic feet cargo capacity; 5 passengers; 16 mpg city, 20 mpg highway; $49,065 (as tested);

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